Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
So here I go. I’m unsure of how this will turn out, but due to the complete anonymity this is probably the arena where I can afford to be completely honest. Is that sad or just a matter of course if you’re mentally ill?
I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar II, probably co-morbid with O.C.D. For clarity’s sake I’ll try to clearly define how mania and depression manifest for me.
Hyperactivity; I have much more energy. Often I begin to exercise more or I will engage in social activities much later in the evening than usual, or usually practicable.
Racing thoughts/ideas of future businesses, schemes, social plans. I start too many projects for me to ever finish.
Almost constant exhilaration and gladness of my day to day life. General happiness.
I celebrate the fact that I have amazing friends and family. I shower them with adulation and become quite emotional
I feel more capable, attractive and intelligent. I’ll regularly approach women and persue complete strangers as a potential romantic interest. I’ll leap before looking into things.
Often cripping lethargy. For instance right now I’m beginning to become depressed, for three days I’ve been in bed until close to midday. Usually I wake up and stay half asleep in bed, not wanting to get out. Occasionally I will be extra tired and know that I’ve had a nightmare. Even when I can’t remember the nightmares I wake up feeling more tired than before I went to sleep and agitated.
I feel the opposite of how I do when I’m manic. I feel as though I’m socially awkward, clumsy, unskilled and I feel as though everyone can see that there is something wrong about me. I feel as though when I’m happy I’m just pretending and that the depressed version of me is the awful truth of things.
I obsess over perceived slights and negative comments about myself. I begin to feel guilty about past mistakes and wrongs I’ve done. These negative feelings are almost always hugely disproportionate to the inciting incident. A recent conversation that ended with me laid in bed hating myself went as follows:
*Speaking on Facebook to a friend who recently moved to S.Africa*
Me: I was envious when I saw the photos!
Him: Yeah, you should be!
The gentleman in question is a bit of a cockney wide-boy, and this throwaway comment was meant only as an affirmation of my feelings about the photo I had seen. Paraphrasing it I would re-write his comment as “Yeah, it is amazing here!” because that is what he meant. Still – That night I obsessed about this asking questions like:
“Why should I be envious? Why does this person want me to be upset? What have I done?”
Invariably the answers come unbidden into my mind and they are usually a mass of self-deprecating sentiments pointing out deficiencies in my character, and the fact that the person I was talking to doesn’t really like me or want to speak to me. “And who would?” is the next question, continuing a progression of self loathing that eventually leaves me cripplied with depression. This process up until now has happened almost unconsciously. Only with the coaching of my room-mate (O.C.D comorbid with clinical depression, 200mg/day of Sertraline) have I consciously been able to identify these thinking subroutines.
The worst aspect of my depression is that I begin to doubt my diagnosis. The thoughts come unbidden and very strongly wash over me. I tell myself that there isn’t really anything wrong with me and that I just need to man-up. Even if I was Bipolar, others out there with the disease cope very well so I have no excuse for being unable to effectively handle it. I tell myself that really I’m just a self-indulgent dickhead, and that there are no pills to cure that.
I know that these thoughts are, for the most part, completely ridiculous but the nature of this illness is that it shortcuts my emotions. These same emotions are genuine facets of my personality when they are born of a genuine prompt. Differentiating between the genuine emotions and the disease is incredibly difficult. Logically I can KNOW something doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t change the way that I FEEL. It is as though the connective fibres between intellect and emotion are completely severed, and although for instance I know that my family love me dearly; in the throws of depression I can be consciously telling myself that they love me, whilst feeling as though they couldn’t possibly love me. I become convinced of two opposing viewpoints simultaneously. It is incredibly confusing and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I need to rest before I am overwhelmed, not afterwards.
For the past three weeks I have been on 600mg/day of Quitiapene (Seroquel). I’m doing much better but I’ve only just left my recent manic phase. Before the doctor’s appointment when I was given this dosage of medication I had had three weeks of intense depression. For a fortnight I barely left my bed and I thought about killing myself constantly. At the present moment I do not know if the medication is working especially well or if I am coping better because I am back at ‘home’ and have better support. Time will have to tell.
I have recently begun to see a woman. The relationship is very casual. I have been very honest about my condition and that I don’t have a permanent status in Australia. I would rather upset someone ahead of time than feel guilty for abusing someone’s trust after the fact.
Today she has had to attend a funeral for one of her friends’ new born baby. I feel guilty for feeling sad when really I don’t have a ‘real world’, adult reason to be upset. I don’t know how I can take ownership of any kind of suffering when put into this kind of context. Again, logically I know that I should be glad that three of my friends who have recently given birth haven’t had to deal with this. I should be glad that none of my family are ill and that my life is currently uncomplicated and that I have every opportunity to be happy. KNOWING this doesn’t change the way I FEEL about anything. It seems that the awful truth of depression is that when it comes knocking for me, I have to just grit my teeth and wait for it to drift on.
My diagnosis has empowered me to make fewer and better decisions whilst depressed. Before I knew that I had a mental illness, when feeling depressed I would have tried to identify and annihilate the cause. In the past this has been:
a person, in which case I’ve lost a friend
loneliness, in which case I begin to sign up to dating websites and try to find a steady partner
a job, in which case I quit
a college course, in which case I dropped out
a geographical setting, in which case I sold all my worldly posessions and left the U.K to come to Australia
I now know that the very nature of my illness is that I will have to endure feelings that do not have a cause other than the illness itself. When depressed I try to limit my thinking to things that are happening within the next twenty four hours. If I catch myself thinking of anything that isn’t directly applicable to the next day I consciously obliterate the thought by repeating “it isn’t real” in my head (and/or aloud). The most ironic thing is that when depressed (especially when thoughts of suicide leap into my head) the very thought that “There isn’t anything wrong with me” is direct evidence that there is in-fact a problem with my mind.
Writing this has provided some catharsis, I think I’l continue with it.
If reading this has given you any insight that was useful or if you have any suggestions – I would love to hear from you. I’m at the start of my journey into dealing with Bipolar, I would love to hear strategies and suggestions on how better to manage the condition.